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Young mountain gorilla eating, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

Discover the best of Rwanda; from gorillas in Volcanoes National Park to tracking lions in Akagera and witnessing chimps in the Nyungwe Forest. As one of the first tour operators to lead gorilla trekking safaris you couldn’t be in more expert hands.

Rwanda is still, without a doubt, the best place in the world to go mountain gorilla trekking and release your inner Attenborough. Walking in the Virunga Mountains in the shadow of giant prehistoric plants as the mists clear to reveal a family of gorillas is incomparable.

Rwanda’s stylish lodges are bursting with charm and the riot of colour around every corner from kanga clothing, banana plantations and the fertile hills soon exhaust your camera batteries. Rwanda is spectacular to behold, a winding succession of steeply terraced slopes, the silvery silhouette of eucalyptus trees standing out against the brilliant green of the tea plantations.

Akagera National Park, Rwanda
Akagera National Park, Rwanda
Home made gorilla picture, Rwanda
Rwanda
Blue monkey, Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda
Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

What to expect on your Rwanda Safari

A charm offensive. The people here are some of the warmest and most welcoming you could hope to meet. Incredible lodges with views to die for. A forward-thinking country – plastic bags are banned, public transport runs on bio-fuel and there’s a national day of cleaning every month – of which its people are rightly proud.

For those with more time Akagera Park, bordering Tanzania in the east, offers a big game viewing experience in which you get the wildlife to yourself, or head south to look for elusive chimps (as well as Rwanda’s best birding and chameleons) in the dark and exotic Nyungwe Forest. If you want to relax then head to Lake Kivu, where the only trekking to be done is back to your room from the beach when you realise you’ve forgotten your holiday read.

Volcanoes, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Golden monkey, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Golden monkey, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Mountain Gorilla, Volcano National Park, Rwanda
Mountain Gorilla, Volcano National Park, Rwanda

Some ideas for a Rwandan holiday

  • No holiday to Rwanda would be complete without gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park.
  • Explore Akagera National Park, Rwanda’s equivalent of the savannah reserves of Africa, and track lions, reintroduced by African Parks in July 2015.
  • Spend time in the dramatic Nyungwe Forest, home to chimpanzees with excellent birding.
  • Trek to Dian Fossey’s grave at Karisoke.
  • Unwind on the sandy shores of Lake Kivu and explore this charming market town.
  • Take to two wheels and cycle through the idyllic Rwandan countryside – the backdrop to the iconic Tour du Rwanda
  • A helicopter safari over this small and very beautiful gem of a country.
Gorilla looking surly, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

In Rwanda gorilla trekking takes place in the Volcanoes national park, where Dian Fossey famously carried out her research. There are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the wild, half of these can be found in central Africa’s Virunga Mountains.

There are ten habituated gorilla families, (Sabinyo, Amahoro, Umubano, Susa, Kwitonda, Karisimbi, Agashya, Bwenge, Ugyenda andHirwa). Most groups are half-day walks but Susa can take all day. Tracking here is usually easier than at Bwindi as the afro-montane forest is lighter. There are eight permits available daily for each group and each permit costs $1,500 per permit, per person. Every group is different, some with large numbers in the group, others smaller and given the habitat and terrain, it is unlikely you will see the groups in their entirety all at once!

Tracking gorillas in Rwanda compared to Uganda:

Pros

  • Spectacular setting, with easier trekking than Uganda
  • Ease of access is great for those looking for shorter, more focused trip
  • Younger, lighter forest than Uganda so easier for photographic opportunities

Cons

  • Permits are more expensive at $1,500 per person
  • Limited choices for other African wildlife experiences
  • Park can be busy
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Gorilla peering through leaves, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

The continued survival of the mountain gorilla is due – in no small part – to passionate conservationists. One of the key figures responsible for helping ensure the survival of mountain gorillas was Dian Fossey, and her work continues through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, an organisation that Steppes Travel works closely with.

Originally created as the Digit Fund – named after Digit, Fossey’s favourite gorilla, the fund was set up to finance anti-poaching patrols in Rwanda. Now, it has evolved, supporting a far wider range of projects and has expanded its focus beyond Rwanda, and into neighbouring countries.

The fund takes a holistic approach to gorilla conservation, prioritising four main areas: protection of gorillas, scientific research, educating the next generation of conservationists and empowering local communities. The last of these is particularly important, as it ensures that local people not only benefit from gorilla tourism and but are not in conflict with gorillas for resources.

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Mountain gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Mountain gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Karisoke Research Centre

Dr Dian Fossey set up this research centre as a camp within the Volcanoes National Park in 1967, located between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Karisoke. It continued to operate even after Fossey’s death, but in 2012 it eventually moved to a much more modern building in the town of Musanze. 2017 marked Karisoke’s 50th anniversary.

This new, convenient location means a visit can easily be combined with gorilla trekking. The centre offers the chance to learn about the history of Dian Fossey, see current research and discover protection practices being developed. In exchange for a donation, a private tour of the labs can be arranged, which includes the fascinating skeletal lab and a chance to meet the director.

Explore Rwanda

  • Akagera
  • Kigali
  • Lake Kivu
  • Nyungwe Forest National Park
  • Volcanoes National Park

Experiences

Forest Photography

Make the most of the younger, lighter forest than Uganda, for excellent photographic opportunities.

Forest Walks

Walk through forests full of colour, home to orchids, butterflies, monkeys and chameleons.

Canopy Walkway

Spot blue monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys and colourful birdlife from the 70-metre-high canopy walkway.

Track Chimps

Keep your feet on the ground but your head in the trees, as you track Nyungwe’s habituated troop of chimpanzees.

Bird Watching

Discover one of the country’s best birding spots, with painted turacos and numerous sunbirds.

Karisoke Trek

Pay your respects at Karisoke – the final resting place of Dian Fossey.

Volcanic Landscapes

Take in the breath-taking views of mist-shrouded mountains and shimmering crater lakes.

Golden Monkeys

Try and keep up with the endemic and nimble golden monkeys.

Natural History Museum

Take in the views across the city at the State House and Natural History Museum.

Capalki Co-operative

Visit the local handicraft co-operative at Capalki for some colourful souvenirs.

Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Jackie Devereux

I was born in Zimbabwe. With a dad who was in the police force, we moved from place to place. I have always been passionate about travel. My grandparents mentioned that our ancestors set off from the Horn of Africa – Ethiopia – looking for better cattle pastures. They ended up settling in the south-eastern hills of Zimbabwe, in the Great Zimbabwe area.
Talk with our experts
  • 1 855 2037885

Illona Cross

Born in a small South African town, I have always followed my passion for nature and discovery. After studying Nature Conservation in Pretoria, I was one of the first women to complete a very tough cadetship in the Natal Parks Board. It was here where I cut my teeth in African wildlife management. My desire to see more led me to work as a guide for AndBeyond, first in South Africa, then in Tanzania as the company expanded. Here, I lived and worked in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro, guiding and running safari camps.
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Bridget Cohen

Aged five and with my Curious George toy safely tucked under my arm, I set off with my family to travel around Europe in an orange VW minibus. Looking back on the adventures we had along the way, I now know that this was where my love for travel and exploring began.
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Chris Johnston

25 years ago, my first trip to Africa took on a life of its own. I planned for three months, I stayed for two years. Whilst there, I was mistaken for a priest, attacked by sharks and arrested. Yet the countless, clattering journeys opened my eyes to the beauty of the landscapes and the grace of the people. My recent trips are undoubtedly more comfortable, but the welcome is as warm as ever and the best experiences are still those I never see coming.
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Frequently asked questions about Rwanda

What should I take when I go gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Strong legs, a small rucksack in which you can put your camera, packed lunch, jackets in etc and comfortable, sturdy boots or shoes. Given that it will start off cold early in the morning, you need lots of light layers that you can take off and put on easily. As you trek, you will warm up, shedding layers as you go, but when you reach the gorillas and stop for the hour, it can turn cold very quickly, particularly if you are in shadow or shade.

Light layers and fleeces are good, walking trousers are good, but anything that you are comfortable in, that dries quickly is the best. Strangely, you might want to consider taking gardening gloves as you will be pulling at thorny vegetation and nettles as you reach and climb so this protects you against cuts and scratches. Of course, take a fully charged camera and spare memory cards. For those with different lenses, a good zoom of around 300-400 ml should be fine but you will need a steady hand or tripod if you are serious as the ground is very uneven and you may be balancing precariously on a slope to see the gorillas!

When is the best time to go to Rwanda?

Rwanda, like Uganda, is near the equator, so the climate does not change a huge amount. The short lighter rains are from October to November, whilst the longer rainy season tends to be from March to April. That said, you are spending time in cloud forest and rainforest, so you can expect rain at any time.

Unlike wildlife viewing elsewhere in Africa, the rains do not affect the movement of the gorillas and you can trek at any time of the year. Travel can be tougher during the longer rains and trekking much muddier. For those keen on photography, however, just after the rains (Jan / Feb or May / June) is a beautiful time to travel as the air is clear, the skies are blue and the countryside is at its most fertile.

How close to the gorillas do you get when trekking?

The official rule is seven metres, designed to stop germs passing from humans to gorillas. But these are wild animals and like any wildlife, you should keep your distance. Sometimes, the gorillas will move around and, as they have not been told about the seven-metre rule, they can get much closer than this. Whilst this should not be encouraged, they are inquisitive animals, particularly the younger ones. Should they approach you, follow your guide’s instructions.

How fit do I have to be for gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

This is the question we get asked the most and, whilst fitness is a very subjective thing, anyone can enjoy gorilla trekking providing they prepare for it. By its very nature, gorilla trekking in Rwanda will be challenging, as you will be walking through cloud forest, through thick vegetation and on steep muddy paths, so the fitter you are, the more you will enjoy it.

The porters are also brilliant and you will be given the opportunity to hire them when you arrive at the park HQ on the morning of your actual trek. They will be there to help steady you as you walk and can help with camera bags. They are great company.

How long are the gorilla treks in Rwanda?

The gorilla treks in Rwanda vary enormously. Some groups are very close and can be reached in around an hour, whilst others are on the far side of the park and can take all day. As the gorillas obviously move around, they are in a different place each day, so it is impossible to predict how long it will take you to reach them.

On the morning of your trek, you will be allocated a group and your ranger will then go through the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking, after which you head out to the park. Some groups can be accessed directly from the park with a short walk to the start of the trail, but others might require a drive to the start of the trail further away.

What are the lodges like in Rwanda?

Full of character and charm, ranging from small tented bush camps through to stylish luxury lodges, some with the most spectacular views where you can arrive by helicopter. These top-end lodges equal anything found elsewhere in East Africa.

All are en-suite, some have wi-fi but it can be a little patchy. The type of lodge we would recommend depends on the kind of experience you are after and what kind of activities you will be doing so we can recommend places that suit your style of travel. Nearly all dietary needs can be catered for and alcohol is included in many of the upmarket lodges.

What else can I do apart from gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

The gorillas in the Virungas are the most popular activity, but those with more time should head off and explore what is a beautiful country. In the east, you have Akagera National Park, a stunning combination of lakes and savannah grasslands, where you find big game and superb birding. Or head south, past vibrant green tea plantations and you can enjoy some chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest. In addition to the chimpanzees, you can see L’Hoest’s monkeys, golden and silver monkeys, mangabeys, incredible birdlife and chameleons.

Most people like to find somewhere to relax after the trekking, so the best place to head is the area around Lake Kivu and Gisenyi. Here, there are a handful of good hotels where you can sit and relax on sandy beaches on the shores of the lake itself to unwind for a few days. The drive to Gisenyi and Lake Kivu is spectacular, winding its way past volcanoes, tea plantations and rice paddies.

Finally, you should try and spend a few days in Kigali and whilst a visit to the moving Genocide Memorial is worth considering, there is a vibrancy and energy in many of the city’s markets and a thriving arts and music scene, with regular galleries and live music.

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Our knowledge and expertise sets us apart. So too our curiosity. A curiosity of the world and of you, and your passions. It is this that drives us to create a journey that is really bespoke to you.

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